I nearly choked on the Christmas cookie I was eating when one of my friends blurted out, “My husband just left me. He’s been having an affair.” My friend continued to unfold the shocking story of how her marriage had fallen apart, and how that crisis was causing tremendous suffering for her and their three children. As she spoke, tears ran down her face and fell onto a stack of Christmas cards piled up on her kitchen counter.
This friend was someone who was known for hosting a fun, festive Christmas party every year – an event that many neighbors looked forward to attending to enjoy Christmas cheer together. There would be no party that Christmas for my friend and her family.
I faced a choice in my friendship with her that year: Either I could avoid her because she made me feel uncomfortable with her raw emotions and serious needs, or I could draw closer to her in the midst of her suffering. Setting my cookie down on a napkin, I reached out to embrace her in a hug.
Our culture often emphasizes ways to feel comfortable during the Christmas season, like creating a cozy atmosphere at home and indulging in expensive gifts to celebrate. But when Jesus came to Earth on the first Christmas in Bethlehem, he chose to do so in extremely uncomfortable circumstances. His birth occurred in a smelly stable for animals, miles away from his family’s home, in an overcrowded place. Soldiers roamed outside, enforcing their government’s requirement that everyone who traveled there for a census pay the taxes they owed.
Jesus chose to enter our fallen world in a way that drew attention to the suffering in it. He didn’t look away from difficult circumstances such as poverty and conflict. When we celebrate his birth at Christmas, we shouldn’t look away, either. The Bible urges us in Galatians 6:2 to, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
There’s nothing wrong with celebrating at Christmas. After all, Jesus is the best gift the world has ever received! The problem comes if we let our celebrations turn inward on ourselves, acting as if we live in bubbles that are separate from the uncomfortable realities of the world around us. Although the classic Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” declares that Jesus’ birth should bring us “tidings of comfort and joy,” we should still allow God to make us feel uncomfortable at Christmas.
If we dare to look beyond our bright lights and shiny ornaments out into the darkness of the suffering that surrounds us this Christmas, we can join God in his work redeeming that suffering. If we’re willing to face the problems that bother God about this fallen world – no matter how uncomfortable they may make us – God will empower us to help solve them.
Here are some questions to think and pray about as you consider how to break out of your comfort zone this Christmas season:
What’s on your December calendar? Is it so full of events and activities you enjoy – such as concerts, parties, baking, and shopping – that there’s no time left for you to say “yes” to God when he brings a hurting person into your life to help? If you’re too busy to respond to God’s interruptions, clear your calendar enough so you’ll have some free time this month.
How much are you planning to do this Christmas season to serve people you already know about who are in need? This can be anything from volunteering at an organization like your local hospital or food bank to donating funds to a charity. When you compare the time, energy, and money you plan to use to serve others this Christmas to the resources you plan to spend on your own enjoyment, is the amount equitable? If not, how can you increase what you give to people in need this Christmas?
Who do you know personally who is going through a crisis this Christmas season? You can probably think of at least several people among your family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors who are struggling with some sort of crisis, such as grief over the death of a loved one, unemployment, or an illness or injury. Make a list of the people you know who are going through a crisis right now. Then pray over your list, asking the Holy Spirit to let you know specific ways you can encourage them and/or help them in practical ways this Christmas.
What sins do you need to confess and repent of this Christmas? Pray about the sins in your life and turn away from them, toward God. Thank God for his blessings to you on Christmas by renewing your commitment to honoring him and pursuing a closer relationship with him – in every part of your life. While it will be uncomfortable to face your sins at first, the healing you’ll experience will make doing so worthwhile.
Who do you need to apologize to or forgive this Christmas? Don’t ignore the broken relationships in your life this Christmas season. Even though it will be uncomfortable to reach out to people you’ve hurt or who have hurt you, risk doing so, since Jesus has reached out to you with the ultimate forgiveness.
This year, do more than just having yourself a “merry little Christmas” where “troubles will be out of sight” as the carol says. Dare to have yourself an uncomfortable Christmas – just like Jesus himself did when he entered our world on the first Christmas. In the process, you’ll discover a deeper Christmas joy than you ever could otherwise!
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. She produced a site about angels and miracles for About.com. Now she writes about the power of thoughts on her “Renewing Your Mind” blog.
Publication date: December 12, 2014